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International Humanitarian Law by Professor Dr.Marco Sassoli

Various law lecturers and students assembled at Strathmore University Law School, in readiness of the public lecture by Dr.Marco Sassoli, professor of International Law and Director of the Department of Public International Law and International Organization at, the University of Geneva, Switzerland on 22nd April. The professor graced the crowd with his ideas and knowledge on the impact of International Criminal Law (ICL) and  International Criminal Justice (ICJ) on International Humanitarian Law (IHL).


Prof Sassoli began his address by highlighting the difference between IHL which limits the amount of violence and ICL, which relates to the prosecution and punishment of those involved in acts that violate International Law. He emphasized the idea that even before an act is considered a war crime, it must be a violation of a humanitarian law. Therefore, IHL defines the rules of conduct in armed conflict, and also defines when those rules are violated by a state or an armed group.


It is by this inter-relationship between the two fields of International Law that Prof Sassoli illustrated certain provisions of the International Criminal Responsibility contained in IHL. He outlined that certain violations of IHL such as, war crimes, are criminalized in the ICL. This therefore creates a preventative and deterent effect in relation to crimes violating IHL.


His presentation focused on how International Criminal Justice (ICJ) encouraged States to prosecute war crimes affecting them domestically, making ICL a reality. The principle of complementarity in the ICC Statute also drives this achievement. He also emphasized on the major contribution of the ICJ and ICL to the development of the IHL through its jurisprudence, where it has redefined the concept of Protected Persons in International Armed Conflicts. Moreover, they have developed IHL especially in relation to non-international armed conflicts vis-a-vis international armed conflicts.


Prof Sassoli also mentioned the risks that IHL faces from ICL and ICJ. They included; the freezing and restrictive interpretation of the rules because of the principle of legality;  the possibility of unrealistic interpretations of IHL such as the protected person statute based on allegiance; relactance of States and their military that makes transaprency and fact finding difficult to achieve; the danger of having the perception that conduct not criminalized is lawful, while important IHL rules are not criminalized.


With his funny humor tied in with his truthful knowledge on IHL, the professor encouraged a lot of discussion with the audience in the question and answer session, as well as during the cocktail session after the lecture.